The reasons for violence

Robert L. Steinback

April 17, 1991|By Robert L. Steinback

WHY ARE WE in America so violent?

What can we do about it?

I asked these questions almost a month ago, and invited readers to share thoughts on the subject. The 82 letters I've received show clearly that no one has The Answer.

That's because there is no single answer. Our uniquely high rate of violence is intimately related to our unique society -- unique in its history, its evolution, it composition, its politics and its morals. If we are to ease the plague of violence sweeping this country, we must endeavor to understand the complexities of our circumstances.

It will take more than one column to explore the issue, so I will return to it periodically. For now, here's a look at some readers' ideas. And I've offered follow-up comments.

* RELIGION. Readers' comments: This country has become so violent because it has turned away from God and religion. We BTC need to return prayer to the schools, follow teachings of the Bible and restore respect for preachers and rabbis.

A. In a country whose founding principles include freedom of -- and from -- religion, is it proper to somehow impose a particular religious ethic on society? Americans are free to choose their religious practice, so the question becomes, why are so many people choosing to turn away from religion?

* DRUGS. Readers: Drugs. Violence is linked to our penchant for drugs. We must focus on rehabilitating addicts, and perhaps even consider legalizing drugs.

A. Are we ready to show compassion for people we've dismissed as junkies, bums and low-lifes?

* VIOLENCE IN MEDIA. Readers: Images of violence on television and in movies are so pervasive that we've come to accept violence as commonplace.

A. Is the alternative a listing full of Disney movies? Violence pervades media because violence sells -- it's what we want to see. Are we ready to change our tastes?

* CYNICISM. Readers: People become violent when they see the rich and powerful get away with almost anything.

A. Is a con man who bilks hundreds out of their life savings really less violent than a street thug who beats a victim during a robbery?

* "SOFTNESS" ON CRIMINALS. Readers: Our justice system is ineffective. We need to keep violent criminals in jail, and stop treating them like guests at the Hilton. The death penalty must be applied swiftly. We need a return to work gangs and reform schools.

A. Some violent people are beyond rehabilitation, and have no business roaming free. But we already imprison a greater proportion of our citizens than any other developed nation. Imprisonment is the final option of a system that does not work to begin with.

* GUNS, proliferation of. Readers: Violence would abate if aggressors had a reasonable fear of being shot by their intended victims.

A. Interesting that some readers still suggest anarchy -- every individual arming himself and determining justice on his own -- as the answer to violence.

* GUNS, control of. Readers: Handguns should be outlawed.

A. That would reduce the damage a violent person could do -- a worthwhile goal -- but it doesn't really address violence itself.

* DYSFUNCTIONAL HOMES. Readers: Violence is closely linked to child- and spouse-abuse. Children of broken, fatherless and unstable homes, and of teen-age mothers, are sure to grow up angry and potentially violent.

A. The overwhelming majority of violent people have physical or psychological violence in their upbringing. One has to suspect this plays a major role in our violent tendencies.

* RACE. Readers: Violence is a racial matter. Since blacks and Hispanics are responsible for a disproportionate share of violence, they are the problem. Or, the United States is paying for its history of racial oppression.

A. Both attitudes are oversimplifications. But it is true, our antipathy toward people unlike ourselves has contributed to our societal ills.

* AN APATHETIC CITIZENRY. Readers: Few feel any responsibility for the plight of their fellow citizens, and fewer still actually do anything to better the lives of others.

A. No argument with that.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Robert Steinback is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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